Essay "Challenge" - Sparring, Fighting, and Self Defense?

Discussion in 'Self Defence' started by Matt_Bernius, Dec 22, 2006.

  1. Matt_Bernius

    Matt_Bernius a student and a teacher

    A while ago, Ghost Frog challenged us with an "essay" question on knife defense (

    I'm doing the same thing. Here's the question:

    Is there a difference between the following terms/concepts "Sparring," "Fighting," and "self Defense."

    Here's the deal -- Put some real thought into your answer. I'm going to mod the responses a bit. One word, or even one sentence answers won't stay here. You need to put at least a paragraph down. Here are things to think about:
    - If there isn't, why?
    - If there is, how does that affect your (or your students) practice of martial arts?

    I'm looking forward to your answers.

    - Matt
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2006
  2. John Titchen

    John Titchen Still Learning Supporter

    Is there a difference between the following terms/concepts "Sparring," "Fighting," and "self Defense."

    Sparring is the exchange of blows between two combatants. These combatants may be of any style, or differing styles. Sparring is characterized by two main factors:
    1. It works within a framework of rules/safety regulations of which both the participants are aware and have agreed to adhere.
    2. The aim of sparring is to see who is better at executing offensive and defensive techniques, it is not to injure the other person.

    Fighting is the exchange of blows for a reason between two or more combatants. These may be of any or no style. Fighting differs from sparring in that it does not necessarily take place within any framework of rules (although it often does) and it is not necessary for all of the combatants to have given consent for it to take place. Fighting also differs from sparring in that the aim is to either stop the other person from being able to fight or to injure or even maim/kill the other person(s).

    Self Defense overlaps with fighting and sparring. Self defense can be a term employed to describe the actions of one or more fighters in a real (no rules or agreements) fight and its aim can vary along the same range as those defined for fighting above. Self defense can also however refer to the practise of practicing for fighting. This can seem at a glance to be indistinguishable from sparring, however this training is subtly different from that of sparring since
    1. There should be a designated attacker (or attackers) playing the role of a ‘bad guy’.
    2. The aim of the training is to teach the defender (and give him/her ‘alive’ practice to enable them) to stop the ‘attacker’ (within a rule set that allows decisions as to what would have been a successful defense). Both (all) involved are still trying to win – but the goal is different.
  3. Slindsay

    Slindsay All violence is necessary

    Is there a difference between the following terms/concepts "Sparring," "Fighting," and "self Defense."

    My Definitions

    Sparring: A trainning exercise where 2 people sincerely try to use primarily technique to defeat the other person in a game that simulates certain aspects of combat. The objective of the game is to better prepare the participants for when they become involved in a fight. The difference between sparring and other forms of trainning drill is that the emphasis is placed on it being non-compliant.

    Fighting: A comptetitive endeavour where two or more people attempt to impose their will on each other physically either to the full extent that a set of rules allows or with no rules governing them.

    Self Defence: Under English law a term that refers to using physical means to protect oneself from attack from another person. Within martial arts a term that refers to any set of actions which attempt to prevent or minamise physical injury suffered from an attack which the user. Self defence can involve fighting but will not involve sparring under the definition that a martial art gives to it. Under the terms that a court gives it, SD must involve fighting.

    My View of the Differences

    Sparring is a tool to help people to learn to fight, the quality of sparring can be defined as the level to which it better prepares someone to fight. The confusion between sparring and fighting arises because sparring is intended to simulate an aspect of fighting hence can look like fighting although it is not.

    The key diffrence between sparring and fighting is the intention of it, within sparring the intention is to learn something from the experience, withing fighting the intention is to win, of course how you define win in a given situation can vary. For example if you want to run away from a confrontation but someone is holding your wrist and refuses to let go you will still have to fight them in order to make them let go and buy you the space to run.

    Self defence is a really convoluted term, the law doesn't seem to make provisions for it being anything other than fighting to defend yourself against unsolicited attack but in a Martial Arts club typically we digress from this and tend to take self defence to mean virtually anything where the potential for harm arises outside of our trainning environment and we attempt to avoid it.

    The way that SD is defined in MA leaves the term pretty open to abuse in my mind as people like to tell you that your being trained for self defence and then proceed to not include in any part of their teaching methods to help you learn to fight.

    So I guess to sum up, because no-one wants to read what I just wrote, sparring is a drill to help you learn to fight, fighting is when you attempt to physically beat an opponent and self defence is when either your forced to fight to defend yourself or someone else (In the eyes of the law) or you employ some action to avoid you or someone else taking physical injury from a violent confrontation.
  4. xen

    xen insanity by design

    in essence, yes there is a difference between 'sparring', 'fighting' and 'self-defence'

    With sparring, you are involved in a process of learning and testing within a controlled environment. Despite the fact that 'sparring' really refers to a spectrum of activities, the common thread accross this spectrum is that the two (or more) people involved in the process are there of their own free will. A choice has been made to engage in an exercise which simulates physical confrontation.

    'Fighting' is a more open term. Two boxers are clearly 'fighting' in the loosest sense, but in reality, they are competing. It may be aggressive and violent, but it too is a controlled environment. They have people there to look out for their well-being and they have a set of conditons which they must adhere to for the duration of the bout. The same is true of any other martial contest.

    At the roughest end of the sparring spectrum, their could be little apparent difference between sparring and competing, but an important difference can usually be applied to distinguish one from the other. Generally, sparring isn't concerned with labeling one or the other as the 'winner'. The sparring exercise is not scored by jugdes and proceeds according to an agreement made between the people involved at the time, as opposed to following the dictates of a competiton bout.

    Generally, good sparring partners are ones who share their time and their skill to help aid a persons development. If a highly skilled person spars with a novice, little is gained by knocking seven bells out of the less experienced opponent. Instead, a good partner will hold off and encourage the other to try and develop their stratergies, their combinations and their confidence. As these qualities emerge, the pressure can be increased gradually over successive sessions.

    To me, 'fighting' is really a term which should be reserved for the more chaotic and potentially dangerous encounters which occur when two or more people are actively trying to injure or kill each other (or working to protect oneself if someone/group are actively trying to injure/kill you). Here there are no referee's or doctors around who will jump in and stop the violence when someone is in danger, there is only the level of self-control or even conscience which exists within those who obtain the upper hand. This again is a spectrum. Some people will stop once a person has lost the will to fight back, others will only stop when they are sure the other person is incapable of fighting back, sadly, some will only stop when the other person stops breathing.

    Self-defence is a broad term. If a person feels that they are likely to be agressed physically in the course of their daily life, they may choose to learn and practice how to defend themselves. This, in essence, requires different training to someone who wants to become a competing martial athlete. The environments surrounding the two different types of 'fight' are very different.

    A competition fighter needs to be an athlete. They are not only going to have their martial skills put under pressure, they are also going to have their fitness severly tested. Sticking with boxing as an example, numerous three minute rounds are what the person is training to be fit for. They need to still be capable of performing their art adequately at the end of the bout, not just at the begining.

    Someone training to survive a random mugging is not likely to be facing someone who wants to hang about for upwards of twenty minutes bobbing and weaving while their victim tries to land them blows.

    These sorts of encounters need a different approach, a different mind-set. This is not to say that 'sparring' is a valueless tool in self-defence training. It is a tool that can be used to develop many skills. Also, just because someone isn't training to be a competetive fighter doesn't mean they shouldn't be of a reasonable standard of physical fitness. They should. If for no other reason, the ones who look unfit are apealling targets. If you look like hard work, then that itself can be a very effective means of defending yourself... the agressor looking for easy pickings will let you pass by until a more enticing target presents itself.

    Of course, there is much more that could be said about these subjects, but right now, I'm out of time.

    Last edited: Dec 22, 2006
  5. firecoins

    firecoins Armchair General

    I see many of the differences i see pretty much explained. Ill fill in little differences I see or expand on previous things mentioned.

    Sparring is a training tool to use your skills in an alive manner at less than full force. Pads and safety equipment are used.

    Competition fighting is usually done at full force but within a subset of previously agreed on rules. Legal competitions require fighter get a license to prove a clean bill of health. Doctors/trainers are usually present. Illegal competitions don't.

    Self Defense is a general term and does not necessarily mean knowing how to fight. It is as much violence prevention as anything else. For instance, traveling in groups, being suspicious of strangers, staying away from seedy places, not getting too drunk/high etc.

    In the martial arts sense self defense training hopefully prepares one to deal with actual violence. The violence can range from bar fight to a sexual assault and even terrorists attacks. Usually the latter is saved for police and military personnel. Aliveness training is important. Even more important is realistic aliveness training. This can be time intensive and expensive. You can not train for every situation.
  6. Matt_Bernius

    Matt_Bernius a student and a teacher

    Great answers and thoughts. Keep them coming!

    Now does anyone disagree? Or have different ideas?

    - Matt
  7. Slindsay

    Slindsay All violence is necessary

    Just a couple of points and I'm being picky here but you don't need to have pads and safety gear to spar, for example BJJ and Judo randori and kyokushin sparring.

    Also legal comps don't require a clean bill of health to compete in.

    Again a petty thing here but in the law and in the dictionary self defence is not defined as this, self defence is typically defined as the use of violence to defend oneself.
  8. firecoins

    firecoins Armchair General

    can't compete in boxing or MMA without a license which requires a clean bill of health. I know many MA comptitions don't require licenses and hence do not require a medical check up but many will have a medical professional standing by.

    As for the legal definiton, I guess I am not looking at if from a legal stand point because that changes from state to state. Florida and New York have 2 different legal definitions.
  9. Alienfish360

    Alienfish360 Valued Member

    What do you mean by a clean bill of health?

    I'm 100% sure that all fighters do not have a clean medical record.

    "Sorry pal, you've had a broken nose, and a cauliflower ear, you can't box now"
  10. Rebel Wado

    Rebel Wado Valued Member

    I see the only real difference between sparring, fighting, and self-defense as being mental state. In sparring, the goal is primarily training oriented, so egos are left at the door and learning is the focus.

    In fighting the goal could be to win, to subjugate the enemy, to save face, to control a situation, or to beat some sense into someone, etc. Ego and emotions can be involved.

    In self-defense the goal is primarily to survive. Ego, emotions, learning, and other concerns are secondary to survival.

    I believe a mistake that is often made is to treat sparring, fighting, and self-defense as separate mental states respectively. For example, someone with a sparring mind might end up in a fight and be surprised when an opponent does not yield or back off as might be expected in sparring. Someone with a fighting mind, might have a difficult time sparring because they lack control and always seem to be going full bore. Someone with a self-defense mind might have trouble with sparring or fighting because they are worried they will hurt someone badly that attacks them.

    All three mindsets must exist at all times whether it is training or real world. From a training point of view, I was told to go 95% on all things, this keeping 5% in reserve to bail out to protect yourself or your training partner. This represents all three mindsets. 95% would be the fighting mindset, the other 5% would be both self-defense (protecting yourself) and sparring (protecting your partner).

    95% is only an example for training. In a particularly dangerous environment, more of your mindset might be focused on protecting yourself and less on fighting. You may or may not have concerns about protecting your opponent(s). The only important point to this is that all three mindsets always exist so that one does not fall into the trap of being caught by surprise and make mistakes because of coming into something in the wrong mental state.

    There is no one mindset that is appropriate for all situations. Because of this, as a martial artist, a very important factor of a mindset is having the skill, experience and will power to control yourself. Control of yourself, your techniques, and your actions may even be the most important factor so that you can act appropriately and effectively as needed in training and real world.
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2006
  11. firecoins

    firecoins Armchair General

    your not going to drop dead in the ring. No heart problems. If you have a cold, no once cares.
  12. Alienfish360

    Alienfish360 Valued Member

    May just be a misunderstanding then, but the way I would refer to that, is that they are checked to ensure they are medically fit to fight.
  13. TigerDude

    TigerDude Valued Member

    Sparring is training. It can be full speed or less. It is for building skills.

    Fighting is trying to hurt another person. No rules in a fight other than get out & hopefully stay out of jail afterward.

    Self defense is keeping yourself or those you are with from being hurt. As such, it involves activities from avoidance, up to & including fighting.
  14. Timmy Boy

    Timmy Boy Man on a Mission

    Sparring = a live training exercise designed to simulate a real fight. They key component is aliveness, i.e. the partners aren't just standing there and allowing each other to beat them. There are always rules to protect the trainees in terms of the level of contact target areas, techniques they may or may not use and possibly protective gear, which means that the level of realism varies (a point which I believe is missed by many who dismiss it outright). It can range from light-no contact point sparring to hard contact sparring (sometimes mistakenly called "full contact", no-one really goes absolute full bore in training).

    Fighting = two or more combatants trying to actually defeat each other. This is more intense than even hard sparring and the rules are likely to be even more lax (in full contact sport fights) or even non-existent (street fights). A big distinction between this and mere sparring is that in sparring the aim is to learn rather than to win; so as xen rightly pointed out, a trainee who is obviously far better skilled than his sparring partner will often go easier on him or even assist him, though still providing resistance, and obliterating him just for the sake of it would be considered needless showing off that dents the less experienced student's confidence. In an actual fight, no such quarters are given, though sparring is the nearest thing to it in training.

    Self defence = a wider issue of which fighting is only one part. Fights that take place in self defence have no rules 99% of the time (some people don't believe in pulling hair or kicking downed opponents but this is rare), meaning that there may be unfair advantages such as outnumbering and carrying weapons.

    A point I disagree on is the notion that a different mindset is required for self defence because of the different way that someone will attack you; on the street, it is argued, someone will rush you and simply overwhelm you with aggression rather than being slow and calculating. I have two problems with this argument:

    1) the whole reason sport fighters fight they way they do is that it's generally more effective than simply rushing your opponent and flailing your limbs, so someone who uses this tactic would usually be easy pickings for someone with more skill.

    2) the "overwhelming aggression" tactic does get used in sport fighting competitions, with varying degrees of success.

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